Publication Date: May 7, 2002
In Open Season, Joe Pickett is a newly appointed game warden to Twelve Sleep County, Wyoming. Before his appointment he gave the governor a ticket for fishing without a license; so draw your own conclusions as to if he and his family being sent to the back of beyond is punishment or not. Within a few weeks, he stops a local for hunting over his limit only for that local to take Joe’s gun. The man is found a dead-on Joe’s woodpile a few months later. Joe must find out who killed the man — and it’s up to Joe’s daughter to tell him about the strange creatures she found in the woodpile after the body was removed, except she’s always wanted a pet and wants to keep them to herself. Will she give her father this vital clue before it’s too late?
As per usual in the first book of a series, this case is a personal one. The deceased has been tormenting Joe for months after the man was able to get Joe’s gun from his belt. He could have shot him dead right there but spared him, because doing so is the best joke ever. Joe cringes at the thought of walking into any room with this guy and actively avoids him.
Usually, I expect the first book in a series to fall flat. The author is getting to know the character, and the personal case is always messy. No excuses needed in the case of this read.
Joe Pickett isn’t smart or brave or above petty insecurity. He’s not the muscle-bound movie or romance novel hero. Joe is a regular guy. What Joe has going for him is that he’s tenacious and win or lose, he wants to see right done. What kind of world will his children or unborn child live in if there’s not justice and the right people being held accountable for their actions? That’s not even to say that he’s that self-aware in his idealism, Joe Pickett is just that guy.
Joe is in an odd position in mystery novels—more typical of what we see as a cozy character. He’s a game warden, but he’s not a cop. So while he may look around on his own, he really doesn’t have a right to do so. As with most cozy main characters, Joe won’t let that stop him. He inserts himself into the mystery plotline to the detriment of both his professional standing and his place in the community.
Along the way, we meet characters that are more backwoods-edgy than quirky, but it paints a picture of an isolated hunting culture. Box paints them as raw and dirty and back to basics and, most importantly, well-rounded, though we get their bare bones.
What benefits this story is that while what the plotline may lack in places or maybe be a bit contrived, it’s impossible not to want this character to win in the end. The reader is on the edge of their seat cheering him on. Box does not shy away from the grit. There is violence; there is gore, and Joe suffers a deep personal loss in this book and throughout this series. This is a true mystery, artfully crafted with an imperfect character. I would not read Open Season over and over, but I will read Joe Pickett for as long as Box chooses to write him.
Force of Nature is out on March 20, 2012 and is the twelveth Joe Pickett book (there are also two short stories) by C.J. Box.
Read an excerpt and buy Open Season (A Joe Pickett Novel) by C.J. Box on